Huntingdon’s boys basketball team enjoyed a lot of success last winter, winning a District 6-4A championship and reaching the PIAA quarterfinals before it all came to an end. There is good reason for optimism as the Bearcat come into the 2018-19 campaign.
The team lost only two senior starters to graduation in the spring and return seven letter winners. Three were starters and two were first off the bench an saw a lot of playing time.
The returning starters are seniors Nick Rigby, Will Sulesky and Owen Lane. Veterans who came off the bench a year ago were juniors Nick Gearhart, Jackson Ritchey and Andrew Miller. The seventh letter winner, senior Chad Brindle, was a starter at Huntingdon Christian Academy. He has transferred full-time to Huntingdon for his final scholastic season.
“Right now, the starting lineup will be Rigby, Lane, Sulesky, Gearhart and Ritchey,” said Bearcat coach Nick Payne. “Miller and Brindle will be first off the bench and sophomores Darin Harman and Tony Poorman and freshman Alec Cooper could also get a lot of work.
“We’re certainly miss the three pointers and quick defense that graduated last year. We’ll be replacing them with length and size. Depth is an issue because of experience and we will have to keep guys on the floor longer.”
The rest of the 21-man roster includes: senior Sergio Ramirez-Sesma; juniors Skyler Humer, Gaige Brumbaugh, Nathan Via, Anthony Benitez, Adisen Herncane, Blaine Burchfield, Conner Jackson and Sven Woomer; sophomores Taigen Hood, Tony Poorman and Darin Harman; and freshmen Alec Cooper and Jacob Rigby.
“Our biggest problem is we aren’t healthy right now,” said Payne. “Sulesky hurt his ankle back in September and Gearhart is also suffering with an ankle issue. We haven’t had many practices with all five starters on the floor. We aren’t totally sure where guys fit into the rotation yet. Ritchey can play the post, but is also able to play the two or three. Sulesky played the low post last year, but is also capable of play the point. We’ll be looking for mis-matches on the floor.”
Regardless of the issues that have plagued the Bearcats during the preseason, they will continue to run an up-tempo offense and feature man-to-man on defense.
“The offense we play will depend on how we play defense,” Payne explained. “Defense and rebounding will control the pace of the game. All of our guys can score. There’s no selfishness with this group.
“Our biggest concern on defense will be deciding who will defense the opposing guards. We have good size, but no the quickness we had a year ago. We will mix and match some zones at times and rebounding should be a strength. We blocked a lot of shots last year and we should be able to continue defending the hoop.
“These kids got a taste of postseason success last season and they want to get there again.”
Payne expects the Mountain League to be better this year. He’s anticipating Bellefonte and Tyrone will be near the top of the standings and Penns Valley has a lot of starters back. He also knows that Clearfield got them last year.
“The quality of the league is better this year,” Payne added. “We just can’t afford take any nights off.
“We also stepped up our non-conference schedule. We are playing Hollidaysburg, Central Mountain, Bishop McDevitt and we’ll go to Williamsport.”
The goals are unchanged and they are lofty.
“We also look for the No. 1 seed going into districts,” said Payne. “That will mean one or two home games. But, there’s always a bit of luck involved. Still, with our strength of schedule, I believe we can win regardless of seed.
We have to stay focused. Not having everyone here yet, we need to hit the reset button and continued practicing hard. We haven’t bonded yet, but it will happen.
Working with Payne at the varsity level again this year will be Toby Mitchell and Ryan Ritchey. Matt Orenshaw returns at the head junior high coach with Phil Mazurowski and To Sullivan assisting.
The Bearcats open their season tomorrow with a varsity only game at Tussey Mountain. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m